Armenian prosecutors have pledged to consider opposition demands to investigate the legality of millions of dollars worth of business assets that have been declared by Yerevan Mayor Taron Markarian ahead of Sunday’s municipal elections.
Under Armenia’s Electoral Code, Markarian and all other candidates running for the city council must disclose, in writing, their annual incomes and all assets in special declarations filed with the Central Election Commission (CEC).
The 35-year-old mayor, who tops the ruling Republican Party’s list of candidates, notified the CEC last month that he has 115 million drams ($277,000), $50,000 and 50,000 euros ($65,000) in cash. He also submitted a list of businesses and properties owned by him. Those include several dozen retail kiosks, seven buildings and other structures as well as three pieces of real estate.
The Armenian National Congress (HAK), one of the main opposition contenders in the mayoral race, estimates the market value of these assets at between $6 million and $10 million. In a letter to state prosecutors publicized on Monday, the HAK demanded a criminal investigation into their origin, arguing that Markarian declared much less personal wealth when he served as mayor of Yerevan’s northern Avan district in 2005. He has remained in local government since then.
Levon Zurabian, an HAK leader, said the mayor’s failure to specify sources of his rapid enrichment gives the opposition party reason to suspect him of corruption. Zurabian said the criminal inquiry should be conducted under an article of the Criminal Code that deals with “legalization of revenues obtained in criminal ways.”
Sona Truzian, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Prosecutor-General, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) late on Tuesday that the law-enforcement agency has received the HAK petition and will examine it. Under Armenian law, the prosecutors have 10 days to decide whether to open a criminal case.
Markarian, whose late father Andranik served as Armenia’s prime minister from 2000-2007, declined to comment on these allegations on the campaign trail on Monday. He referred all questions to the campaign headquarters of the Republican Party (HHK).
Hovannes Sahakian, a senior HHK lawmaker, dismissed the HAK move as a publicity stunt aimed at earning the opposition party more votes in the May 5 elections. “I know the following: my colleagues and especially Taron Markarian do everything within the bounds of the law,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Many current and former Armenian state officials are believed to own businesses directly or through their relatives and friends.